For my education Planning for Multicultural Learning class I was assigned to read chapter twelve of The Skin That We Speak by educator Joan Wynne. The reading moved me in ways that I did not think possible. In the beginning of the chapter Wynne describes that she took her high school’s newspaper staff to a journalism workshop and award ceremony at a university to learn more about print journalism. The staff consisted of eight African American students. The students were also at the workshop to receive an award for one of the ten best high school newspapers in the metropolitan area. The workshop was filled with white faces. The students were listening to an expert speak about ways to improve school newspapers. After the expert was done speaking the students were given the opportunity to ask questions. The students had several questions, but rather than taking that opportunity to ask their questions the students gave Wynne a list of questions and asked if she could ask the questions for them. The students refused to ask the questions themselves because they believed that they didn’t speak well. Knowing her students well Wynne knew that there was not anything she could tell her students to encourage them to ask the questions themselves. As stated in the text, the teacher understood “how psychologically damaging language biases are” (205). These eight students were hardworking, capable, intelligent students. They were there to receive an award for their hard work and excellence. But at the moment they felt inferior. The students were “silenced by language biases born of racism, biases that crippled their inquisitive natures. Their typical bold acts of discovery became impotent in the midst of a white majority” (206).
After reading this section of the chapter I could not continue reading. I felt like my entire college experience was described in just a few lines. I am not sure if my interpretation of the text is what Wynne was trying to communicate when she wrote those lines, but regardless of what she meant those lines really touched me. I like to think that I am smart, capable, competent and most importantly hardworking. I went through so much to be able to come to Stonehill. Being the second in my family to go to college and the first to go away for college my family did not fully understand why I choose to come to Stonehill. I work even harder to be able to stay here. I was at the top of my class in high school. I have a 3.7 GPA now. With such accomplishments and confidence why is it that I too, just like the students described above, am silenced. I often sit in class and I know that I have things to say, things that others will benefit from, things that matter and will contribute to our class discussions. But yet I am I still afraid to speak? Why is it that I rather talk to my table of three students than my class of fifteen students?
I am Dominican. I am an immigrant. I grew up speaking Spanish at home. My mother does not speak Standard English. I watched “Univision” and “Telemundo” with my mother and grandparents growing up. I have an accent. I did not even know that I had an accent until I came to Stonehill and I was surrounded by students who speak “perfect” Standard English. I thought I received a good education. I went to public school in the Bronx. I would even argue that it was one of the best public schools in the Bronx. I felt supported; I had mentors and some good teachers. But then I came to Stonehill and learned that so many of the students here went to private school, took AP courses, and had excellent teachers. It takes me twice as long to complete any assignment compared to the other students. Learning all this really made me question the quality of education. Listening to how well other students speak really made me question how well I speak.
But does that mean that I am any less capable? Does it mean that I should not share my thoughts, feelings, experiences and my take on things? NO. I have grown so much through all of my experiences. I would be depriving myself of further growth if I allowed these insecurities to keep me from contributing to class discussions. I would be depriving other students if I refuse to speak up. They can learn from me just as much as I have learned from them.
I too, am capable. I am competent. I am smart. I am hard-working. My thoughts matter. My experiences matter. I am well spoken. I deserve to be here.
Reading and reflecting on this piece of the chapter made me question what can educators do prevent students from being silenced, what can institutions do, what can we do for ourselves, what can society do for us and what can we do for each other?